Who wants to dive with sharks?
Diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu, Philippines should definitely be on your scuba diving bucket list. Thresher Sharks are not dangerous to humans, and to encounter these beautiful, graceful creatures of the deep is a truly magical experience.
Many visitors to Cebu combine Moalboal and Malapascua for two of nature’s greatest phenomenon; the sardine run in Moalboal and Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal in Malapascua. When we discovered we could dive with Threshers in an ethical way any day of the year, we immediately added this destination to our Cebu itinerary
Malapascua is the only place in the world where you can see Thresher Sharks all year round. We only participate in natural animal encounters, and there is no feeding, no cages or baiting involved in any of the Thresher Shark dives.
So what is it like to see a 10 feet torpedo shaped shark suddenly appear out of the blue? Moalboal Eco Lodge share their experience of scuba diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu.
Disclaimer: We visited Malapascua in the month of April before Typhoon Ursula hit on 24 December 2019, and prior to March 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Although Malapascua Island is now open to tourists, it relies heavily on tourism, and will have suffered financial difficulties imposed by 8 months of no income. We have friends who live on the island, and have tried to ensure this article is up to date and accurate, however some information may become outdated as situations are continually changing.
Where is Malapascua?
Malapascua is a white sand island off the north coast of Cebu, Philippines. An exotic sounding name, meaning “Bad Easter” in Spanish, it is said that Spaniards were sailing through the Visayas in 1520, when bad weather struck on Christmas Day stranding them on the island. Whilst sitting here during the rain, week after week, far from loved ones and their home, they hoped they wouldn’t still be here at Easter so named the island Mala Pascua.
The island of Malapascua is very small, only 1km wide and 2.5 km long with a population of around 4,000. Despite being a tourist island, it is still largely untouched by tourism. This sandy island has no cars and the only way to travel around is by scooter, or you can walk around in less than two hours. It reminded us very much of Gili Air, the Indonesian Island we called home for 15 months.
Malapascua became popular as a dive destination in the early 1990’s and has since become a world class dive spot. Diviac Dive Magazine voted Monad Shoal, Malapascua as one of the top ten shark diving sites in the world.
Why are Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal, Malapascua?
No one really knows why Thresher Sharks are in Malapascua, but there are a few cleaning stations, so this is the most popular explanation.
The Thresher Sharks here are a world phenomenon because they can be seen all year round at Monad Shoal, a sunken island 7.8km (4.8 miles) off the coast of Malapascua. They live and hunt in deeper waters during the day, but come shallower around sunrise to be cleaned.
Thresher Sharks are the prettiest, most adorable sharks in our ocean (in our opinion). They are naturally shy creatures (like most sharks to be honest), but when you look closely at their faces, they have big doey eyes and a mouth which appears to be smiling. They are very endearing.
These sharks have been featured on the BBC, Animal Planet, and National Geographic were able to film a Thresher Shark hunting sardines.
Our dive with the Thresher Sharks
Our day started before sunrise. Cruelly awoken at 4am, we walked sleepily in the dark to our dive centre. After analysing our Nitrox tanks and checking our gear, we sat down for our dive briefing.
Coffee. I need coffee. Coffee first then dive briefing please.
The 30 minute boat journey to Monad Shoal dive site helped wake us up. As the sun slowly appeared on the horizon, we geared up, carried out pre-dive safety checks and jumped into the water. We were buzzing and couldn’t wait to see these beautiful creatures.
On this particular day our descent was slow. There was a strong surface current and we had sea swells, so the mooring line was used to guide us down slowly and safely.
Letting go of the mooring line, we swam to a sandy bottom where we would hover waiting for our first sighting. Some people kneel, but as we are macro lovers, we never feel comfortable kneeling on the sandy bed in case we crush a tiny critter that is almost invisible to the naked eye. Another issue with kneeling is you can easily kick up sand obscuring other people’s vision.
We waited and waited a little longer, hoping we would get lucky. The thought crossed our mind that today wouldn’t be our day, and we wouldn’t see them.
All of a sudden out of the blue (literally), the unmistakable dark shadow of a shark appeared. It was a beautiful, graceful Thresher Shark with its characteristic large tail silhouetted against the darkness of the dawn ocean.
It was magnificent. The shark swam around and off into the blue. I wanted more, then another was spotted, or maybe it was the same one, who cares – I was just happy to have another view.
We watched in awe as it swam around, it’s long whipping tail gliding effortlessly through the water.
It swam towards us and we had a chance to see it’s smiling face. This is one very pretty shark. Then it dashed away again into the blue.
This activity continued throughout our dive, and we were glad we opted for Nitrox to give us a longer dive time at 30 metres. We wanted as much shark action as possible, but alas all good things must come to an end and it was time to begin our assent.
One Thresher Shark dive isn’t enough, definitely not, nowhere near. So we decided to dive again, only this time we chose an 8am dive not a 4.30am start. We had heard that the sharks sometimes hang around for longer, and we wanted to take that chance.
The gamble paid off.
We had an equally good encounter, if not better because there were less boats and less divers at 8am*. We had another opportunity to hang out with these beautiful creatures, watching as they swam towards us, away from us, above and in front. Fantastic, absolutely fantastic.
The time we spent with the Thresher Sharks was magical, it truly was a wonderful experience.
Am I satisfied? Not on your Nelly! I want more, so we plan to return to Malapsascua and dive with the creatures from the deep one (or two) more times. My thirst for seeing Thresher Sharks has not yet been quenched.
There is something very special about Thresher Sharks, and there is something very special about Malapascua Island.
*Maybe we were lucky, maybe it was the time of year, maybe the sharks wanted to see us again – who knows, but generally sightings at this time of day are not guaranteed.
The effects of Shark Tourism in Malapascua
Shark Tourism has had a positive effect on the people of Malapascua. Fishermen used to hunt the sharks for the thriving shark fin trade in Asia, but they have realised a living shark is more valuable than a dead one. Many fishermen are now dive guides who value the important of protecting the Thresher Sharks. More sharks mean more tourists and more income to feed their families.
The Thresher Sharks have improved the lives of locals who live here, and many work within the dive industry. The money earnt means parents can send their children to school, and can be trained to become professionals within the dive industry.
Wood carvers sell hand-made Thresher Sharks, a perfect gift and memento of your time diving with the sharks, it’s also sustainable! Souvenir shops sell shark memorabilia, from t-shirts and hats to keyrings and bags, all of which provide valuable income to local families.
With regard to conservation and the war on plastic, Malapascua Island is definitely leading the way. Dive 4 Help founded Go Green Malapascua, and with the help of People and the Sea are non-government funded organisations who educate locals and tourists about marine conservation. They carry out island clean-ups on Debris Free Thursday, and thanks to Go Green Malapascua, every restaurant displays a “No Plastic Bag” and “No Straw” sign.
When is the best time to dive with Thresher Sharks?
The Thresher Sharks can be seen all year round, however the best shark action is between March and December with peak sightings from July to October. Apparently there are fewer sightings around a full moon, which is the opposite to other shark dives.
The best time of day is early morning before the sunrises, when they can be found around cleaning stations. It’s the closest you will get to a near-guarantee sighting (but nothing is ever 100% guaranteed in nature, and that’s the beauty of it!).
Water temperature is 25°c – 27°c December to February, and 27°c – 30°c for the rest of the year.
High Season: Christmas, Western New Year (1 Jan), Chinese New Year, Easter, Thai New Year (14 April) and 1 May. Expect more people during these holidays.
What dive certification do I need?
The Thresher Sharks are found around 30 metres so you need to have your Advanced Certification, or 30 metre Deep Adventure as an Open Water diver. If you do not have your AOW or Deep Adventure, a reputable dive centre will not take you.
A Nitrox Certification is also advantageous as it will give you a longer bottom time.
If you want to dive with the Thresher Sharks, either take the correct certification before you visit Malapascua, or schedule the course when you are there.
Who should I dive with in Malapascua?
Thresher Shark Facts
Where to eat and stay Malapascua
Villa Sandra is a must-visit restaurant, and it also provides affordable accommodation. They serve vegan/vegetarian food and it is absolutely delicious – you must try the crunchy balls (similar to onion bhajis served with mango sauce. Jonjon the owner is a remarkable human, he is kind, gentle and cares so much for the island kids, every Saturday at 3pm he arranges to feed them and you are welcome to join in. When visiting Villa Sandra, tell Jonjon Angie and Simon from Moalboal Eco Lodge sent you (and ask to see his eco brick boat!)
If you are looking for a beach front resort, Hippocampus has accommodation and an amazing restaurant serving great food. Who doesn't like to feel sand between their toes and staring at a beautiful ocean during dinner.
The Craic House at Evolution Divers is a beachfront restaurant perfect for sunset cocktails, serving the best mac and cheese dinner.
For pizza and gelato lovers, Angelina Beach Italian Restaurant Resort is a dream. Seriously, the best pizza ever, and their home made gelato is to die for. As their name suggests, they also have accommodation.
How to get to Malapascua Island
From Moalboal to Maya Port, Cebu:
Taxi: Journey time is about 5 hours, cost is approx. P4,000
Bus: Journey time is about 9 hours and involves 2 buses. Take the Yellow CERES Line Bus from Moalboal to Cebu City (it stops at South Terminal), transfer to North Terminal and take the Yellow Ceres Line Bus to MAYA PORT. Cost 2 x 180 – 250PHP depending on non-aircon or aircon.
From Cebu City to Maya Port
Taxi: Journey time is 2 to 3 hours, cost P2000 to P3000 /£30-£40 /U$40-U$60
Standard airport taxi price is P4,800
Bus: Journey time is 4 to 5 hours, cost P180 to P250
Take the Yellow CERES LINE BUS from North Terminal, (30 min from the airport, 5 min from SM mall). to MAYA PORT, get off at the end of the line at the pier.
At Maya Port
At Maya Pier, purchase a ticket for the passenger boat to Malapascua, (P100), they leave when they are full, journey takes 30 -60 minutes. If it’s low tide, you will need to pay an additional P20 for a small boat to take you to the passenger boat.
Combine a trip to Malapascua with Moalboal
When visiting Cebu and Malapascua, for the ultimate adventure, twin your trip with Moalboal for the sardine run. Also known as the sardine storm or sardine ball, you can walk off the beach to swim, snorkel, freedive or scuba dive with one of the world's greatest natural phenomenon, every single day of the year.
Moalboal Eco Lodge is the perfect place to stay. Located in the middle of a peaceful field with no traffic noise, it’s close enough to amenities, but far away so you can have a good night’s sleep. There is plenty of space to observe physical distancing at the Eco Lodge.
Nestled in amongst palm trees, bamboo and coconut trees, Moalboal Eco Lodge have beautiful Bamboo Cottages suitable for solo travellers, couples and friends. We have two private rooms and a spacious 4-6 bed family room, a breakfast area, kitchen, and a stunning hammock/yoga/sunset deck. Take a look at our rooms! Please read our COVID-19 Care page for more information regarding your safety.
Visit our Eco Shop* for all your plastic free,
zero waste, palm oil free travel products!
(*10% from every purchase is donated to Moalboal Dog Rescue)
For help regarding travel and Visa requirements, visit our Travel Information page
Interested in diving?
Freediving and Scuba Diving? Benefits of Learning Both
Swimming with Sardines in Moalboal
Heading to the Philippines? Check out these related posts!
Bucket List Ideas and Experiences in the Philippines
Fun Facts about the Philippines
Things You Should Know Before Visiting the Philippines
28 Things to Do in Moalboal, Cebu
Must-Try Filipino Foods
Do you want to travel responsibly?
Is Oslob Whale Shark Watching Ethical?
Eco Friendly Gifts for Christmas and Any Occasion
Sustainable Travel: How to be a Responsible Tourist
12 Plastic Free & Zero Waste Travel Tips During Coronavirus
Plastic Free & Zero Waste Toiletries: Space Saving Travel Essentials
International Orangutan Day: Palm Oil Free Challenge
Staying in Moalboal and need day trip ideas?
Dolphin Watching, Alegria
Montpeller Waterfall, Alegria
Kawasan Falls, Badian
Lambug Beach, Badian
Basdaku “White Beach”, Moalboal
Taginis Falls & Budlot Spring
Mantayupan Falls, Barili
Simala Shrine Castle Church, Sibonga
Pin this post for future reference!